Australia’s government won a key election in Sydney on Saturday, regaining its parliamentary majority in a boost for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Liberal candidate John Alexander, 66, will return to parliament after claiming victory in the district of Bennelong, winning 54 percent of the vote to 46 percent for Labor candidate Kristina Keneally, with counting still underway.
“This is the renaissance of your leadership,” Alexander, who shared the stage with Turnbull, told the prime minister during his victory speech in Sydney as party supporters cheered.
The win is a reprieve for Turnbull, who lost his lower-house majority amid a citizenship fiasco gripping parliament. More than a dozen lawmakers across various parties have been caught out by a constitutional rule that bars dual nationals from being parliamentarians — with some unaware their parents’ heritage sometimes automatically bestows them with citizenship of other nations.
Alexander, a former tennis star and commentator who was the youngest player to represent Australia in the Davis Cup, stepped down from parliament last month on realizing he inherited British citizenship through his father. He’s since renounced his British ties.
“The people of Bennelong have put their faith in this man,” Turnbull said of Alexander during the victory speeches. “They have said ’yes, John Alexander, you are Bennelong’s champion just as you were Australia’s champion’.”
Turnbull campaigned heavily for Alexander’s re-election and said Friday that voters in Bennelong would be “casting a judgment on the government which I lead.” After a year of poor opinion poll ratings, Turnbull has played up his economic credentials this week — saying 340,000 full-time jobs added in the first 11 months of the year were a direct result of his government’s policies.
Turnbull has struggled to put his mark on the government since he seized the leadership from unpopular Liberal colleague Tony Abbott in September 2015. He narrowly avoided defeat in an election in July 2016, while limited maneuvering room in parliament has seen parts of his economic agenda stymied.
In a speech in Sydney, Keneally congratulated her opponent but said a swing of more than 5 percent to Labor gave Turnbull a warning. “The verdict is in, the message is clear,” Keneally said. “We have had enough of your lousy leadership.”
Labor leader Bill Shorten said after Keneally’s speech that if the swing was replicated at the next national election due by 2019, Turnbull would be ousted.
“The Liberals have seen a big swing against them -– a brutal verdict on Turnbull and his out-of-touch government,” Shorten said in a statement. “A swing this big across the country would see the Turnbull government lose more than 20 seats.”